By Marni Jameson
So often the desire for a home improvement comes out of the ether. You don’t even realize you’re dissatisfied with your kitchen, then you see a spread in a magazine, or you walk through a model home, or a friend’s kitchen. You come home and something in you shifts. Suddenly you want your brown cabinets white, or your raised panels recessed. You can’t look at your kitchen the same way anymore. You pine, or oak (sorry), for a change.
Sometimes alcohol is involved.
Next, you are looking into what new cabinets would cost and stop right there. Which is wise. Because if you have ever priced new kitchen cabinets, you know that buying a new house is cheaper.
This is why I have never replaced my kitchen cabinets. I have always moved.
But while talking recently to a couple of kitchen cabinet experts — who have personally had to pick up passed-out customers off the floor and revive them with smelling salts and brisk slaps to the cheeks after the customers got their estimates for new cabinets — I familiarized myself with two other less costly, less invasive cabinet update alternatives: refacing and refinishing.
“Most home improvers don’t know that a whole world of possibilities exists, that they can get an all-new look without ripping out their cabinets,” said Ted Gibson, national install merchant for the Home Depot.
Refinish or repainting cabinets (and replacing the knobs and pulls while you’re at it) is the easiest, fastest, least expensive way to get a new look. If you like the style and placement of your cabinets, but not their color, or if they look tired and are wearing a film of grease and dirt, refinish, said Jennifer Wagner, kitchen install merchant for The Home Depot.
You can restain and not cover the grain, said Wagner. “Restaining lets you take old yellow oak and turn it to cherry or espresso, or you can stain with a tint of color, like sage. You can also repaint dark wood sleek white or another color, like French blue.”
When I got my parents’ house ready to sell, I painted the 45-year-old walnut colored cabinets glossy white and added brushed nickel knobs. Wow, what a difference for not much cost.
If you like the basic layout of your kitchen, but can’t stand the look of the cabinets, refacing gets you new door fronts, new drawers, and a whole new veneer, including shelf edges and cabinet sides. Plus, you can keep your counters, which you can’t if you replace your cabinets.
“Refacing results in a much more high-end, custom finish than most customers expect,” said Gibson, “especially if you add crown or under-cabinet molding, and toe-kick trim.”
Costs mount when you decide you really, really don’t like the layout of your kitchen. Say you have a galley kitchen, and want a U-shaped one, or you have a U-shaped and want to add an island, or you want the sink closer to the refrigerator, or the refrigerator next to your bed. If that’s the case, and you want to change your kitchen’s footprint, add cabinets, move appliances and relocate plumbing, then you’re looking at new cabinets.
Ouch. I’m sorry.
“When you reface, you can add a few cabinets and do a little reconfiguring, but at a point you’re better off replacing,” said Gibson. “A good rule of thumb is if you are adding or reconfiguring more than 50 percent of your cabinetry, replacing is your best option.”
And that’s how it happens. One minute you’re idly flipping through a home magazine while waiting at a doctor’s appointment, and next thing you are waking up on the floor of the design center while someone fans an estimate over your face. Soon after, you are eating your meals out of Styrofoam cartons, and washing cups and making coffee in the bathroom.
Of course, nothing is ever as simple as those selling home improvements would make it seem. Here are some other factors to consider when weighing the options for updated kitchen cabinets.
- New or old counters. When you replace your cabinets you have to replace your counters, too.Ka-ching! However, if you reface or refinish, you can keep your counters if you want.
- Cost comparison. Generally, refinishing costs half the cost of replacing, and refacing costs about 75 percent of the cost to replace – not counting the counter cost. “Replacing is only about 25 percent more,” said Gibson, “because most of the cost of new cabinets are in the doors.”
- Inconvenience. Refacing may not seem like it saves much, yet it does when you factor in down time. Professionals can refinish cabinets in two days, and reface them in two weeks. But replacing cabinets can leave you out of your kitchen for eight to 12 weeks, said Gibson.
- Today’s trends: Five years ago, everyone wanted raised panel doors. Today’s minimal looks are causing more customers to opt for recessed panel or Shaker-style doors. White and gray are also in demand, but dark wood, including cherry and espresso, is still strong, said Wagner.
- What’s included. When you replace cabinets, you get it all: new cabinet boxes and shelves, new knobs and pulls, glides and hinges. Refacing includes new hinges, knobs, pulls, drawers and glides. When you refinish you typically keep your old hinges, drawers and glides, but most homeowners update knobs and pulls.
- The rest of the house. Most homes have consistent cabinetry throughout. So consider whether changing cabinets in the kitchen will require you to revisit the cabinets in other parts of the house. Cabinets don’t have to match throughout, but they all should get along. Like I said, you may just want to buy a new house.
Syndicated columnist Marni Jameson is the author of two home and lifestyle books, and the newly released Downsizing the Family Home – What to Save, What to Let Go (Sterling Publishing 2016).